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It’s not a glamorous task, but it’s completely necessary.

Jenny McCoy
August 02, 2018
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The other week, I was trying to remember the last time I cleaned my microwave and embarrassingly, I couldn’t. It’s one of those things that I know I should do on the reg, but all too often, it becomes an out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of thing.

That’s a bad mentality on two counts. For one, it’s not very sanitary, says Becky Rapinchuk, cleaning expert, and author of the books Simply Clean and The Organically Clean Home. “If you are putting [new] food into your microwave, you risk contaminating it with old food and other remnants [that may still be lingering inside],” she explains.

Secondly, the longer you put off the cleaning, the harder and more time consuming it will be, says Amy Medrud, president and owner of Clean Home Inc., a Colorado-based home cleaning service. Splatter stains and offensive odors are a lot tougher to eliminate 5 months after they first occurred than 5 minutes.

How frequently you should buff up your box depends on how frequently you use it. As a general rule of thumb (and as mentioned above), you should wipe it down anytime you spill something on the inside, says Medrud. In those cases, the sooner, the better, she adds. Beyond that, if you’re a daily user, you should aim for once-a-week cleanings; if you’re a more sporadic microwaver, once a month is acceptable, says Rapinchuk.

While I’m not a daily user myself, my cleaning habits meet...none of those guidelines. So in an effort to reform my slacker ways, I asked Rapinchuk and Medrud to share their best tips for getting the job done.

How to clean the inside of your microwave

Start by removing the plate and rollers. If you have a glass plate, you can pop it in the dishwasher, says Rapinchuk. If your plate is of a non-dishwasher-friendly material, simply clean it in the sink with hot, soapy water, says Medrud.

From here, you have two different options.

The first, from Medrud: take hot water, an extra strong soap (Medrud recommends Dawn Platinum Advanced Power Dishwashing Liquid), and a microfiber sponge. The sponge type is pretty much a non-negotiable. “Don’t get one of those sponges that has one course side and one smooth side,” Medrud warns. “I’ve seen people ruin their microwaves with these things.”

Saturate your microfiber sponge with hot, soapy water. Then, use the sudsy concoction to wipe down the entire inside, though be careful that you’re not completely drenching it. “Don’t squeeze out your sponge inside the microwave,” Medrud says. “You don’t want copious amounts of water going down inside the open holes and vents.”

As you clean, be careful of the mica waveguide cover (the filter on one of the side walls that covers the hole where the microwaves are emitted). While you don’t want food and/or grease sitting on this (over time, they could corrode the cover), you also don’t want to douse this device in water or otherwise scrub it too aggressively, says Medrud. Just get the major gunky bits off and “don’t obsess if a few splatter marks remain,” she advises.

Once you’ve finished wiping down the entire inside, wet a terry cloth rag, wring out the excess water and use it to wipe down and dry the surfaces.

The second option from Rapinchuk is more hands-off. Start by taking half a lemon and cut it into small wedges. Fill a large measuring cup or glass bowl with 4 cups of water and drop the wedges inside. Pop the bowl inside the microwave and heat it on high until the water reaches a steady boil for at least a minute. Then, turn the microwave off and let the bowl sit for 15 minutes so that steam fills the inside. If you don’t see steam when you peer through the window, boil it again.

Once the 15 minutes are up, open the door, remove the bowl and wipe down the entire inside with a paper towel or a clean cotton dishcloth. If you can’t get everything off, just repeat the boiling process with a fresh batch of lemon water.

How to remove especially grimy bits

If you have a lot of debris inside your microwave (*raises hand*), clean it out first with a terry cloth rag and hot water before you begin your selected cleaning process, says Medrud.

For stuck-on splatters that won’t budge, consider using a toothbrush or another small, specialized cleaning brush (Medrud recommends OXO brushes) to bid those bits adieu.

How to get rid of nasty smells 

If you’ve ever used your microwave to heat up fish, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, you know that some foods just don’t smell pleasant—or even remotely appetizing—after being nuked. And the worst part: these gag-inducing scents can sometimes linger long after the food itself is removed.  

“Food odors can get trapped on the inside cabinet of the microwave and become very hard to get out,” explains Medrud. An easy solution: consider leaving the door ajar at all times to let it continually air out (just make sure the inside light doesn’t stay on), recommends Medrud. Also, don’t do this if your microwave sits over the stove or another central location where you could easily bump your head on the open door, she caveats.

Another option, especially for those who can’t leave their doors ajar: take a quarter to a half cup of either white vinegar or baking soda, put it in a small, shallow bowl, and stick it inside the microwave for 12 to 24 hours, recommends Rapinchuk. Both substances will absorb, and thus eliminate, bad odors.

How to buff up the outside

Cleaning the inside of your microwave is the tough part. Polishing the outside, by comparison, is a breeze.

Both Medrud and Rapinchuk recommend spraying the exterior with a glass cleaner (here’s a DIY recipe from Rapinchuk) and then wiping the surface with a microfiber towel. (Though if your microwave door is really dirty, start with a terry cloth rag, recommends Medrud.)

If part of your exterior is stainless steel, which is oftentimes tougher to buff, you can polish these portions with either a wax-based product, like Wyman’s Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish (good for finer grain steel) or an oil-based product, like Sprayway Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish (better for rougher grain steel), recommends Medrud. Just be careful to keep the polish off of the glass portions, as it can streak, she caveats.

And if you have hard-to-remove smudges on any type of surface (stainless steel or otherwise), you can also take white vinegar and put it directly on a microfiber towel. Then, wipe the rag over your trouble spots, says Rapinchuk.  

Lastly, run your hand over the door handle. If you feel any texture on the backside, get a wet rag and scrub, says Medrud.